Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Heter Mechira and the Problem of Unzer Yidden

All politics is local and in the splits among Frum Jews, the arguments are often very much local too. If there is one thing that explains the splits between sub-denominations of Torah Jews in Israel, it is that "Unzer Yidden", the interests of a specific community takes precedence over the feelings and needs and even physical survival of our brothers and even the land of Israel. That is why this will not be a popular post.

Heter Mechira like Gush Katif is little more than another rehearsal of "Unzer Yidden". Had there been a large Haredi farming industry, we know full well that Heter Mechira would as accepted as the sale of Chametz. And conversely if there wasn't a large Religious Zionist farming industry, Heter Mechira might well not exist. That is the nature of the Halacha of convenience.

The reality is that Heter Mechira is as legitimate as Heter Iska or the sale of Chametz on Pesach or Pruzbul or many other things I could name. The question to be asked of all these things is whom it hurts. With the exception of Heter Mechira, these have universal benefits. Heter Mechira does not. To the Haredi camp, Jewish agriculture in the land of Israel has no value, only Jewish study in their Yeshivas does. To the Religious Zionist camp, Jewish agriculture is one of the most fundamental ways to embrace the holiness of the land. The split is one that goes back to the divide between Galut and Yishuv, between Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi.

Much like the divides over Eruvs, it is a debate over lifestyles but it is also a debate over ideology and priorities and which Halachic fictions we are prepared to accept and why.

The Eidat Haredit who are buying tons of produce from Palestinian Arabs are not only directly funding the murder of Jews, they are still buying produce from the land of Eretz Yisrael ignoring the commandment that the land is meant to rest. There is no practical difference between produce from EY derived from land sold through Heter Mechira and produce from EY derived from land that is in Arab hands. Either way you are funding the creation of the produce when the Torah clearly spells out that the goal is for the land to rest in extremely strong language.

It is a fraudulent piousness that buys produce from EY and in doing so puts a sword into the hands of our enemies with which to kill us. If the Haredim were truly serious about being prepared to engage in personal sacrifice to avoid violating Shemitta as they counsel the farmers to do, they would simply abstain from produce that comes from any land in EY and from produce that is bought from the enemy. They are not prepared to make that sacrifice or to even consider it. They would rather buy from the enemy than pay inflated prices or slash their intake of fruits and vegetables. They would rather spill Jewish blood and observe a sham Shemitta by relying on Arab agriculture than suffer inconvenience and observe a true Shemitta.

And if the Religious Zionist camp was truly serious about the holiness of the land, they would stop relying on Heter Mechira and actually allow the land to rest. Because in the end Heter Mechira was a temporary measure and nearly a century later, it has long ago ceased to have any legitimacy. Heter Mechira is no more valid as a permanent state of affairs than Heter Iska, the sale of Chametz or Eruvs that stretch for longer than some countries. All are examples of explicit violations of D'oraisas that are mandated by business or lifestyle. What the Torah says is not remotely ambiguous and it ends with a warning that the failure to observe Shemitta will result in our expulsion from the land. Too many people who jump on every prediction made by a Kabbalist somewhere ignored what the Torah says in black and white.

But instead "Unzer Yidden" prevails, sides are chosen, self-righteous rhetoric is pasted up on posters and the same routine continues. The same "Unzer Yidden" mindset that allowed the Haredim to fold their hands when it came to Gush Katif because it didn't involve "Unzer Yidden" and allowed so many in the Religious Zionist camp to ignore the decades of police brutality directed against Chassidim and Haredim, before it was directed against them... rules the day.

What I have to say isn't pretty but it is true... much as I wish it wasn't. The answer is true unity around the Jewish people and the Torah, not around individual communities. Every day we are repeating the steps leading to the fall of Bayit Sheini and we... each and every one of us, those who care and those who don't, those who wear black hats and those who wear Kippah Srugah, those who daven Nusach Ashkenaz, Sefard, Ari or nothing at all... are part of the problem. Until we can look at ourselves and our communities in the mirror and recognize that we are part of the problem... there is no hope for us.

No hope but that we grow wiser and learn to love each other and learn to love G-d and his Torah. For those who do not love G-d cannot love the Torah and those who do not love the Jewish people cannot love G-d or the Torah.


Keli Ata said...

It's a wonderful post :) And a call for love and unity among Jews should not be controversial at all. That should always be a popular topic.

In my humble opinion...we need both those who study Torah to instruct those who are required to let the land lay fallow (sp).

If G-d saw fit to give the land a sabbath of sorts it has to be important. And farmers should store up enough crops and finances to see them through the year.

But I don't think this is about farming, but about splits among Jews claiming the observance of the law is more important than the study of the law; one group claiming superiority over another. It's sad really.

Is the rift between two groups of religious Jews really that wide?

Keli Ata said...

I think I know what you're saying. Especially with all of the threats facing Jews worldwide there must be something to unite us--such as life, survival and the fact that we are all Jews...

Anonymous said...

Dear Daniel,
I salute your post, because it may be unpopular to some, but it is true. The need for truth exceeds the need for popularity. I was just studying such things...disallowance of the Sabbath for the land. G-D is, as you pointed out, very specific with His commandments to allow the land to rest.
As I was reading, I also went back and read Ha'azinu; I read it on Erev Shabbos as it is (for me) both a declaration of deliverance for Klal Yisrael and also at the "micro" level, for my family and I (our personal "Mitzrayim"). I find hatikva emet b'Ha'azinu.
Your post is a good example of apostasy from Vayikra 18.5 of obedience to His laws.

Ani lo klum, ani lachishiah shoom eesh, v'lo rebbe. But I found something this week. In Ha'azinu. It is based on condition, and not on time. Something I had seen before, but never completely understood until this week.
In Ha'azinu: Devarim 36.32 tells it; such is conditional, not temporal, as to when.

The conditions are almost met. I pray that I can turn my heart toward His Torah completely and walk different, now. I pray for all of us.
Shalom, v'erev tov.
Yesha Galluzzo

Lemon said...

If the land is not allowed to have its "rest", the people are then removed from the land.

Anonymous said...

Someone once said that the greatest reformers were the Sages in the Talmud. That the Reform Jews of today do not come close to the things instituted by the Sages. If one was able to time travel one would find a very different type of Jew 3000 years ago. Today, with our ability touch many people, things tend to be much more rigid.

Years ago if one had a question one would seek out the advise of a Shul Rabbi. Today it is more likely to ask a Rosh Yeshiva. Going to an Ivy Tower is not always the same as going for practical advise. Today a place like Lakewood and The Mir each have more students then all of pre-war Europe. The point is that we have lost much of the practical advise of the Pulpit Rabbi.

There is the famous story of R Gamlial who limited entry to his Yeshiva to those who were totally dedicated. When he was temporarily replaced thousands of students showed up. He was concerned that he had erroded. He had a dreamed which revealed that many of the new students did not amount to much.

This tendency is not uniquely Jewish. Much the same occurs in secular colleges too.

Giving the situation the benefit of the doubt it is interesting to note that the more rigid and uncompromising Jews become the more the secular world moves to debased morals.

Ultimately we tread on issues that can cause greater division. They say how will we know the true Moshoch, he will be someone accepted by all.

Lemon said...

Moshiach will be accepted by all because he compromises Torah?
No way. If he does that he would not be moshiach in any way.
Denominationalism is a deciding step in the death of a religion or a people.
Ignoring a land shabbat is asking for a ticket out of the land.
Compromising the law means you don't have faith.

Keli Ata said...

Perhaps the compromise is that...the farmers who let the land go fallow will be supported by the Jews that study Torah; that they'll show compassion for them and appreciation and support even love. After all without the farmers crops how would they live to study Torah??

And perhaps the farmers will have a bit more time to study Torah. Without those who study Torah in depth how would the farmers know how important it is to study Torah and let the land rest?

Maybe those are the compromises we need to make. Understanding and support which will lead to unity and love.

Just an opinion from the peanut gallery for whatever it's worth.

kahaneloyalist said...

Yes, unity is needed, but how are we to create unity?

Keli Ata said...

A good question Kahane. I would guess by not being as judgmental with fellow Jews and emphasizing that Israel is fighting for its life, it's very survival. Differences can be put aside to fight against the government for the time being.

When you see Jews getting beaten to a bloody pul in Amona or losing their homes elsewhere it's time to just support them and fight for them in whatever ways are necessary.

Personally, if I had the money I would be in Israel demonstrating at every anti-expulsion or concession to the Arabs protest I could. I can't be there so I can be an armchair activist, sending emails, making donations, and keeping aware of what's going on.

Not much I know, but it's a start.

Anonymous said...

Why not point out that many, many people have opted for the balance between the two 'extremes' by donating monthly to the Otzar HaAretz organization? From the funds raised by voluntary contributions, Jewish farmers are paid to leave their land fallow and the produce which grows there is collected and distributed to places where the contributors can exchange coupons for produce. Read more about it here

For what it's worth, I have never subscribed to any legal fiction; not the heter mechira for chametz, the eruvim, or whatever. I am also neither hareidi nor religious zionist, just a plain Torah Jew living in the holy 'settlement' of Yerushalayim.

Some dude said...

We create unity by acquiring power for ourselves as individuals within the framework of an ethical standard (Torah) that obligates us to acquire and use that power responsibly.

Those individuals that comprehend your social, intellectual, emotional, financial and legal power will be more inclined to work with you rather than against you. They will understand that your strong ethical framework will incline you to work towards their benefit. And that same ethical framework will obligate you to wreck them if they betray you.

This is the only real way to achieve unity.

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